Cover image for The trials of Lenny Bruce : the fall and rise of an American icon
The trials of Lenny Bruce : the fall and rise of an American icon
Collin, Ronald K. L.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Naperville, Ill. : Sourcebooks MediaFusion, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 562 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm + 1 audio disc (4 3/4 in.).
Comedy as commentary -- The force of an opinion -- Free speech in North Beach -- L.A. story -- The Ash Wednesday Trial -- What does it mean to be found obscene in New York? -- The courtroom of the absurd: New York, Part II -- Court adjourned: New York, Part III -- The path to vindication -- The resurrection of Lenny Bruce: 1996-1974 -- Ex officio judgments.
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Material Type
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Item Holds
KF224.B78 C65 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
KF224.B78 C65 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Lenny Bruce committed his life to telling the truth - as he saw it. But the things he said infuriated those in power, which is why the authorities in the largest, most progressive cities in the USA tried relentlessly to put him in jail. To them, Lenny's words were anarchic and immoral. For his fans - the hip, the discontented, the fringe - his words were not only razor sharp but a beacon in the dark, repressed society that was the early 1960s.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Collins and Skover's biography of groundbreaking comedian Lenny Bruce comes with a compact disc of snippets from Bruce's routines and vintage interviews, and hearing Bruce's delivery aids appreciation of his subject matter and reveals unexpected commonalities with, say, Woody Allen. Still, as nice as the CD is, the book is indispensable. Its 80-plus pages of appendixes, notes, and bibliography constitute a treasure trove of reference information, including even a list of "Attorneys, Judges, and Club Owners" who intruded on Bruce's life. A handy "Free Speech Chronology" offers a time line of significant dates in Bruce's ongoing contretemps with the thought police, from October 13, 1925, when Bruce was born as Alfred Schneider, to January 7, 1970, when an appeals court affirmed the verdict in a free-speech case in which a co-defendant of Bruce's was involved (Bruce's own appeal was never, it says, "perfected"). With his countercultural appeal and impeccable antiestablishment credentials, Bruce seems perennially interesting, which makes this book-CD package a mandatory acquisition for most libraries. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

The shelf is full of books about "outlaw social critic" Lenny Bruce (1925-1966). But now comes a different approach, as two legal scholars provide an in-depth survey of "comedy on trial"-the five years of censorship, arrests, obscenity trials, convictions and appeals as prosecutors sought to bust Bruce for "word crimes." Skover and Collins (coauthors of The Death of Discourse) meticulously document both litigation and the literary scene of the 1960s, crosscutting between clubs and courtrooms to show how Bruce's career crumbled in a nightmarish fashion as he broke taboos and struggled for free speech in the years before his death from a morphine overdose. Looking for a lawyer in 1964, Bruce requested, "Get me somebody who swings with the First Amendment," and that year noted performers and writers (such as William Styron, John Updike, James Baldwin) signed a petition to support Bruce, while others (Jules Feiffer, Jason Epstein, even the "prim and proper" Dorothy Kilgallen) served as defense witnesses. Granted access to Bruce's papers, Collins and Skover have done exhaustive research, also interviewing Bruce's lawyers, club owners, cohorts and comic talents, including Orson Bean, George Carlin, Margaret Cho and Paul Krassner. The voice of Bruce springs to life with his memorable comedy routines heard on the accompanying CD, narrated by Nat Hentoff and also featuring interviews with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Hugh Hefner and others who reflect on Bruce's legacy. Generating a gamut of emotions, the entire package is an important documentation of a revolution in American culture. B&w photos. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

One of the most incendiary entertainers in American stand-up comedy, Lenny Bruce was never one to shy away from controversy or a legal fight. Written by a First Amendment scholar and law professor, this is the story of the series of obscenity cases that Bruce had leveled against him and how they played out. Many details from the trials are included here, making the book a literal walking tour of his time in court. An outstanding feature is the accompanying audio CD, the contents of which are all keyed to passages in the book. Narrated by Nat Hentoff and containing performances by Bruce and interviews with other entertainment notables, including George Carlin, the CD gives the text another dimension and allows for a truly different reading experience. The book is best read in tandem with Bruce's How To Talk Dirty and Influence People: An Autobiography and William Karl Thomas's Lenny Bruce: The Making of a Prophet. A fine retelling of Bruce's career as well as one of the only books in print to detail his free-speech legal troubles, Trials is recommended for all media and law libraries. David M. Lisa, Wayne P.L., NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Collins (scholar-in-residence, First Amendment Center) and Skover (Seattle Univ. Law School) aim not only for a biography of Bruce but also a purposeful review of Bruce's numerous arrests and court cases that question the relationship between subversive comedy and the right to free speech. Keyed to discussions in the text, the material on the CD accompanying this top-rate lawyerly work comprises clips of the late comedian's nightclub performances and of statements Bruce made during his last years in conjunction with his conflicts with the police over obscenity. The obvious irony is that Bruce's socially unpopular statements contained complex subtexts that varied with his improvised routines; his "obscenities" would be overlooked by today's standards. Bruce once remarked that if George Wallace did not exist, he might not have any act to perform. This volume joins a literature than includes Albert Goldman and Lawrence Schiller's substantial biography (Ladies and Gentlemen--Lenny Bruce!!, CH, Oct'74), Bruce's autobiography (How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, 1965), the film Lenny (1974), and Bruce's recordings of his work. Most of the many photographs reproduced are of Lenny's attorneys, prosecutors, and judges. Extensively documented and including an excellent bibliography, this work will serve readers at all levels interested in First Amendment issues. A. Hirsh emeritus, Central Connecticut State University



He was a man with an unsettling sense of humor. Uncompromising, uncanny, unforgettable, and unapologetic-every outrageous step of the way. He entertained America with disturbing frankness. His words crossed the law and those in it. He became intolerable to people too powerful to ignore. When it was over, not even the First Amendment saved him. He died convicted-a comedian condemned for his words. He was Lenny Bruce. Censorship, arrests, trials, convictions, and appeals. Police, lawyers, judges, and jurors. The state versus the individual; the old guard versus the avant garde. ItÆs all there, nonstop for five years, in the drama stamped People v. Bruce . Here is the story of comedy on trial, a story without rival in the annals of American history. It is the story of Lenny BruceÆs struggle for free speech. Words were his catalyst to fame; to failure, as well. Words were his power, his incomparable gift, his way into the unexplored realms of life and law from which there is seldom safe return. He tore into the planks of conventional morality like a furious buzz-saw: "My concept? You canÆt do anything with anybodyÆs body to make it dirty to me. Six people, eight people, one person-you can only do one thing to make it dirty: kill it. Hiroshima was dirty." Daring to make public jokes about private matters, he satirically ridiculed hypocritical religious and legal authorities: "Respectability means under the covers," he explained, "I [am] pulling the covers off." His words cost him, in dollars, freedom, and sanity. His words-comical, critical, distasteful-put AmericaÆs First Amendment principle to the test: Can offensive speech really be free? The trials of Lenny Bruce are like no other in the history of our law. His free speech story is no dry recitation of lawyerly argument and mundane judicial precedent. From microfilm pages and dust-covered court records emerges a remarkable account of a man who was the magnet for enough prosecutors (twelve or more) to staff an entire state attorneyÆs office, enough defense lawyers (twenty-three) to fill a small law firm, and more trial and appellate judges (some thirty) than have presided over any single body of First Amendment litigation. And all of this for misdemeanor offenses. Lenny Bruce-born Leonard Alfred Schneider, a Jewish kid from Mineola, New York-was a comic criminal. He was prosecuted by the likes of Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., and defended by the likes of Harry Kalven Jr., one of the great free-speech scholars of the twentieth century. Thurgood Marshall, before becoming a justice on the Supreme Court, once sat in judgment over Bruce. Nat Hentoff, the liberal columnist, testified on his behalf, just as Ernst van den Haag, the noted conservative commentator, testified against him. Steve Allen, the celebrated TV talk show host, also spoke out for Bruce-from the beginning, throughout his trials, to the end. Judy Peabody, a noted New York socialite, and Phil Spector, the infamous rock-and-roll record producer, stood by Lenny as well-they subsidized him and his work at a time when virtually everyone else had abandoned him. In his own lifetime, this comic outsiderÆs speech was castigated by well-meaning conservatives and demeaned by well-meaning liberals. Major newspapers were relatively silent, and never ran editorial protests. Years after his death, feminist Susan Brownmiller lashed out against Lenny Bruce in a campaign to support his New York prosecutor for district attorney of Manhattan. He had his defenders, too-among them Max Lerner, Woody Allen, Gore Vidal, Norman Podhoretz, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, James Baldwin, John Updike, and Susan Sontag, to name but a few. They once signed a petition in his defense: "Whether we regard Bruce as a moral spokesman or simply as an entertainer, we believe he should be allowed to perform free from censorship or harassment." And then there is the remarkable story of Justice William Brennan Jr. The obscenity opinions he wrote over four decades ago figured prominently into Lenny BruceÆs struggles for free speech. The evolution of BrennanÆs view of the First Amendment was central to the handling of People v. Bruce . It explains how Bruce was prosecuted, defended, once exonerated (on appeal), and how he may have been legally vindicated if only he had lived longer. Incredibly, the Bruce story is virtually absent from the recorded history of the First Amendment. There is no celebrated Lenny Bruce precedent, because his cases have been virtually forgotten. True, Lenny Bruce has become a cultural icon. But in the world of the law, his life and legal struggles are nothing; it is as if he had never existed. Such legal inattention is folly, however. For in the comic and tragic turns of this life, there is a great legal story to be told. It is a story of the poignant and perverse sides of free speech and the way that speech plays to people and power. It is a true story, but one clouded by myths and complicated by paradoxes. Excerpted from The Trials of Lenny Bruce by Ronald K.L. Collins and David M. Skover Copyright © 2002 by Ronald K.L. Collins and David M. Skover Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

About the Audiop. xi
CD Track Listp. xii
Prologue: When Outlaws Become Heroesp. 1
People v. Brucep. 3
The Living Deadp. 5
Explanationsp. 7
1. Comedy as Commentaryp. 11
Obscenity or Blasphemy?p. 13
From Godfrey to Gazunka!p. 14
No Laughing Matterp. 23
2. The Force of an Opinionp. 25
Aiding and Abettingp. 27
Sweet Victory or Disaster?p. 29
Withhold Judgmentp. 34
3. Free Speech in North Beachp. 37
Holy Howlp. 39
What Kindava Show Is It?p. 47
You Break It Down by Talking about Itp. 50
Quickie Trialp. 52
Inviting Contemptp. 57
You Can't Win a Case Based on "Cocksucker"p. 60
The Letter of the Lawp. 61
Reasonable Doubtp. 66
A Throw-Away Line?p. 69
Judge and Juryp. 75
4. L.A. Storyp. 79
Eye Candyp. 81
Building Up to The Crescendop. 86
Trouble at The Troubadourp. 98
Beverly Hills Justicep. 104
Strategies, Satire, and Schizophreniap. 117
5. Chicago: The Ash Wednesday Trialp. 139
The Gate of Hornp. 141
"He Mocks the Pope"p. 144
Legal Problems Galorep. 150
The Right to Make a Fool of Oneselfp. 151
Lenny the Lawyerp. 157
Essential Attacksp. 159
Foiled Againp. 163
Double Jurisdictional Jeopardyp. 167
"We the Jury Find..."p. 170
Love Lettersp. 174
The Great Triop. 175
Appealing Argumentsp. 179
"There Were Adult Women Present"p. 183
6. What Does It Mean to Be Found Obscene in New York?p. 189
The Man from Outer Tastep. 191
Mr. First Amendmentp. 195
Going to Au Go Gop. 197
The Stingp. 200
More Heatp. 204
"Get Me Somebody Who Swings with the First Amendment"p. 206
Make-It-or-Break-It Proceedingsp. 209
The Sick Comedianp. 219
Poetic Licensep. 222
7. The Courtroom of the Absurd: New York, Part IIp. 225
Standing Room Onlyp. 227
Burt Lancaster for the Prosecutionp. 231
Where Do We Go from Here?p. 235
Religions, Inc.p. 239
Curtain Call at The Cork 'n Bibp. 245
An Anthro-Lingual-Philo-Jurisprudential Scenep. 247
Esteemed Enthusiastsp. 251
Attacking the Person and Performancep. 255
8. Court Adjourned: New York, Part IIIp. 267
Gifts From on Highp. 269
A Cast of Criticsp. 272
Censorship Debate and Courtroom Dramap. 278
Playing the Courtp. 288
A Court Opinion Unfit to Be Printedp. 295
Victory in Illinoisp. 300
Civil Rights and Uncivil Wordsp. 301
"The Jew Is Not Remorseful"p. 304
Island Retreatp. 312
9. The Path to Vindicationp. 315
High Hopes, Painful Flopsp. 317
White Christmasp. 321
"For My Part, Go to Hell"p. 325
The Specter of a Rebelp. 331
"I'm Going to Die This Year"p. 336
The Wisdom of Solomonp. 342
10. The Resurrection of Lenny Bruce: 1966-1974p. 351
Icon and Ironyp. 353
Essentially Yoursp. 356
Making Bookp. 359
The Play's the Thingp. 364
Leaving Londonp. 366
Man of the Momentp. 370
"He Sees the Law as a Weapon"p. 373
Old Foes, New Battles, and Artistsp. 376
The Ghost of Lenny Brucep. 381
"Feminists Here Split Over an Endorsement of Kuh"p. 385
Tempers, Gentlemenp. 389
Wide Marginsp. 393
Cinematic Justicep. 396
11. Ex Officio Judgmentsp. 401
Lenny's Legacyp. 403
Outlaw?p. 405
Community Standards, Then and Againp. 409
"Perhaps It Has Been My Fault"p. 413
Taking the Fifthp. 417
Who Killed Lenny Bruce?p. 421
Epilogue: Only Wordsp. 427
Free Speech Zonesp. 429
Coming Out of the Free Speech Closetp. 432
"We Want It Stopped"p. 441
"I'm Not a Comedian, I'm Lenny Bruce"p. 444
Appendix A The Lawyers, Judges, and Club Ownersp. 451
Appendix B A Free Speech Chronologyp. 457
Notesp. 471
Bibliographyp. 523
Indexp. 543
Creditsp. 555
Acknowledgmentsp. 557